CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Eastern running back Tony Valenzuela is taken down by two Texas A&M-Commerce defenders.
By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico University was rolling along with a 21-7 lead over Texas A&M-Commerce on Saturday. Then, in nine seconds, the Lions tied the score.
Not to worry. The Greyhounds quickly righted the ship, generally dominated the game and pulled away to a 44-21 win in the Lone Star Conference North Division opener for both teams.
It was ENMU’s debut in the North after 11 years in the LSC South, and the Hounds (2-2) put on an impressive all-around display.
Sophomore quarterback Wes Wood went 44-for-73 for 437 yards and five touchdowns, generally under solid protection from his line. ENMU also rushed for a season-best 153 yards, including 74 yards on 14 carries from senior Tony Valenzuela.
Commerce (1-3), outgained 590-249 overall, went three-and-out on eight of its first 11 possessions. But a 36-yard touchdown pass from Adam Farkes to Jillian Hayes and a 24-yard return of a fumble on the ensuing kickoff by junior Taylor Fore suddenly pulled the Lions even 21-21 with 4:55 left in the half.
Commerce didn’t get close to scoring the rest of the way as Eastern harried Farkes into an 8-for-28 day passing, sacking him four times and hurrying him on numerous passes.
“What we practiced on this week came together,” said senior defensive end Matt Kalisch, who had six tackles, including a sack, and was credited with seven of the 11 quarterback “hurries.” We just executed what we wanted.”
The Hounds recovered quickly after the Lions’ two scores, moving in position for the first of three Taylor Cannon field goals to take a 24-21 halftime lead. ENMU drove 79 yards in nine plays following the second-half kickoff, with Wood hitting Jessie Poku on an 8-yard TD pass, to re-establish control.
Down 14-0, the Lions got on the board when junior strong safety Joel Wren returned an interception 31 yards for a score with 8:14 left in the half.
“We gave them a couple of easy ones — a tipped screen pass (on the interception) and a fumble on the kickoff return,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “And our All-America corner (Rodney Mitchell) falls down (on the TD pass to Hayes).
“To be able to come back and get a field goal (before the half), I was pretty proud of that.”
Kalisch said the defense had something to prove after giving up 85 points combined in losses to Angelo State and Midwestern State before last week’s open date.
“I definitely wanted to come back after these two weeks and show something,” said Kalisch, from Harker Heights, Texas. “Our defensive line was fantastic.
“They scored 56 points on us last year (in a 76-56 ENMU win). I definitely didn’t want any part of that again.”
Defensive tackle Brace McCoy had two of ENMU’s four sacks against Farkes while strong safety Tillman Stevens had a game-high 15 tackles, including nine solos.
“We’re starting to play with more discipline and more focus,” Ribaudo said. “When we do that, we can be a pretty salty team.”